She is best-known for her roles on TV and the big screen, but Jennifer Garner is also passionate about healthy, good-tasting food. Her latest adventure is as co-founder and chief brand officer of Once Upon a Farm, makers of organic, cold-pressed baby food, which recently launched in Kroger. We caught up with her to learn more.
When you were growing up in West Virginia, your mom always had a big vegetable garden. Is that how you were influenced to eat healthy?
I don’t know if my mom was preparing fresh food with health in mind. She grew up on a farm during the Depression, so to her, it made the most sense that growing and cooking your own food is more cost-effective than buying prepared food. She never understood why people don’t grow more to have to buy less. She would buy one roast and make three meals for five people; she could really make things stretch. I think she appreciated that what she was feeding us was healthy. We always wolfed it all down. Although I confess we were always begging for Triscuits and the cheese with wax on the outside!
How did you get connected with Once Upon a Farm?
For a long time, I’ve been looking for a brand that I could really dive in to and be an early partner and work with in a bigger way. I’m always wanting to expand my knowledge base and be outside my comfort zone. We had an early exploratory meeting scheduled, and the owners [Cassandra Curtis and Ari Raz] asked if I minded if John Foraker, who was then at General Mills and on Once Upon a Farm’s advisory board, could join. He flew to L.A., and what was supposed to be an hour turned into several. We were on the same page of our vision of what a company could and should be: social change and justice, and how business can drive social change. We also agreed about the need for Once Upon a Farm and fresh baby food in the world. At the end of the meeting, I told John, “I’m in if you’re in.” Through some miracle-making, Cassandra and Ari made both of our deals together. I’m so glad; I respect and like John even more as we go along this journey.
The brand makes perfect sense to me. I did make my kids food, but it wasn’t easy. There were times when I wanted to reach to the store, but what you could buy and what I was making at home didn’t look or smell the same. The store-bought tasted like baby food, but what I was making tasted like real food. I’ve been asking myself, “What have we been doing all this time?” It’s kind of crazy what we’ve grown to accept as normal for our babies.
You’re a mother of three. Tell me about what you and your family typically eat. Are your kids interested in cooking and healthy, natural foods?
My three kids all like to help in the kitchen. As a mom, I find that I get into different “spells” with them. We recently went through a spell where one child helped make dinner, one helped set up, one helped do dishes after. When helping cook, they have the best time; they’re willing to try more things at home. And they all love to bake. I have one daughter who will sometimes have a pop-up restaurant with friends over called Casual Chic. We recently had a surplus of eggs from our chicken, so my daughter called her pop-up Casual Chick. She made a gorgeous frittata and fried-egg sandwiches. It’s nice to see them with their friends and know that they’re competent.
Tell us about your mom’s family farm in Oklahoma and how it’s being converted to organic to grow produce for Once Upon a Farm.
It is well under way. The farm is naturally organic; no pesticides have been used. My Uncle Robert has been getting everything ready, and he said it’s looking beautiful. It’s certainly not been a celebrated piece of land in the past, but it’s been in the family for the last 100 years. It will contribute to our produce; next spring we’ll be harvesting persimmons, blueberries and kale. My mom is beside herself about it; I have not heard her this excited about anything for a long time. It’s all she can talk about!
Life is busy! How are you balancing being a mother, an actor, and a co-founder of a growing food company—and also taking time to take care of yourself?
There is no such thing as balance! [laughs] The sooner you can let go of the idea that everything is going to work out perfectly, you have to forgive yourself when kids go by the wayside for work and vice versa. I do love those days when, oh my gosh, I had a minute alone, I got to cook, I saw girlfriends, and I fit in a workout. But the secret is no secret. It’s intense scheduling, and I’m in the Olympics of scheduling: the kids, my girlfriends, exercising, working in the garden. It’s really ridiculous, but I think that, in general, this is the case with all working moms.
Are you involved with product development at Once Upon a Farm? Any new innovations coming out?
One of the most fun things for me is to be part of the conversation. Cassandra is like a fairy in the kitchen. She comes up with a hero product, and it is incredible. We have our current lineup of foods and are about to have more toddler blends, too. We’re excited about a fun flavor called Peter Banana Pumpkin Eater, which is exclusive for Kroger. It’s delicious!
That’s a fun name! How have you all come up with other flavor names?
When it comes to naming, everyone geeks out. I love to be in those conversations. We have such a great start with the name of the company; I think there is a magical storybook element to it. Our name kind of guides us to where we want to go.
You seem to really enjoy being a part of this venture. Is there anything else you would like to share?
The most important thing is that we want to offer a fresh, healthy, fantastic alternative to moms who are so busy and wish they were making homemade baby food every day. We are also going to continue offering recipes for busy moms. When I made my kids’ foods, I didn’t blend in specific things for brain development and health. It’s so gratifying and important to be able to offer products with good ingredients.
See also Sensible Nibbles for Kids.
I am also loving it when people come up to me and, instead of asking about movies I’ve been in, they say that they have a baby or toddler and he or she can’t get enough of our food. That makes me so happy that kids are excited to see our pouches. They have great feelings and memories of food with texture and taste. It’s thrilling to be part of a great, fun, smart experience and be part of a like-minded team working to the same goal.
I grew up going to Kroger, riding in the grocery cart. I knew all of the checkers at the registers. I can’t wait to go to my hometown Kroger in West Virginia and see the pouches in the refrigerator section. I just know that it’s going to be much more meaningful than I could ever have imagined.